How to Practice Self-Compassion
As the great Tina Turner once famously said, “We never ever do nothing nice and easy.” These days so much of the collective focus is on hustling and grinding — attempts at trying to do and be more; however nebulous or out of reach this might seem on any given day. With so many distractions outside of ourselves and external pressures, there are ample opportunities to miss the mark and not live up to our predetermined expectations. Missed your sales quota? Self-blame. Mind went blank during your exam? Self-attack.
In these moments, shame and disappointment can feel like daunting challenges that hinder our ability to turn our focus inward. We may want to completely suppress these experiences, or we may find ourselves completely submerged in them and speaking to ourselves in overly critical tones that only make us feel worse about ourselves.
While self-compassion might be the very last thing you’ve considered while actively falling down a shame spiral, it might just be a tool that helps ensure that you and your feelings always have a safe and soft space to land.
Leading researcher and self-compassion expert Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as the culmination of three parts: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the ability to gently soothe and comfort our pain as opposed to engaging in harsh and judgmental inner dialogue. Rather than immediately jumping into self-attacking mode or berating yourself for making a mistake, self-kindness would propose that you speak to yourself with warmth and care — basically giving yourself the calming Tabitha Brown treatment.
The second aspect of self-compassion, common humanity, describes the acknowledgement of shared suffering and shared imperfection as an integral part of humanity. It’s about centering realistic expectations for yourself as a human with a shared connection to every other imperfect human who has ever walked this earth. Lastly, mindfulness illustrates the process of facing our painful thoughts and feelings without avoiding or attempting to fix them. Mindfulness calls for us to actively accept our need for comfort and to accept our negative feelings without over-identifying with them.
While some skeptics assume that leading a life prioritizing self-compassion may be a tool of avoidance or excusing away bad behavior, scholarship seems to suggest otherwise. Specifically, research posits that self-compassion bolsters psychological wellbeing, increases motivation, and leads to positive interpersonal experiences.
Self-compassion isn’t a tool of avoiding accountability. It’s a delicate balance and perspective towards pain that, according to Dr. Neff and colleagues, “involves having the right amount of distance from one’s emotions so that they are fully experienced while being approached with mindful objectivity.” It offers honesty, acceptance, and care in times when it’s most needed.